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In which we are asked to hold forth on Aleister Crowley

I'd forgotten how often we saw Magritte

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In which we are asked to hold forth on Aleister Crowley

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So I read an Aleister Crowley biography- Do What Thou Wilt by Lawrence Sutin.
Sutin wrote what I'd call the best biography of P. K. Dick, so when this one got recommended to me by meliny, I was all over it.

If you're a Crowley afficionado of any stripe:
1: if you've read it, then
A: have you read this book?
B: what did you think of it?
C: are there points therein that needed rebutting?
2: if you have or have not read it, then
A: how do you think I should approach characterizing the Great Beast in fiction?
B: are there resources you'd recommend I consult in such an undertaking?

The synopsis:
While in India, Crowley discovers, rather than esoteric 'how to win friends and influence people' magic, magic that enables him to do such things as levitate battleships. His interest in serving King and Country (as evidenced in our world by his efforts to work in the Intelligence service during WW1) is translated into effective works for King and Country by training magi to feats of magic that end WW1 in about 1/4th the time it ended in our reality. He garners a Barony out of it, and becomes a rather influential creature in the House of Lords: somewhere between eminence gris and enfant terrible.
The novel would not be focusing on Crowley himself- he'll be a secondary character at most (though more likely, will be not even tertiary)- instead, it'll be focused on the young nobility whose parents got through WW1 OK and are trying to find a purpose for their lives, with a desperation that makes Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot's characterizations look like a bunch of Morally-Certain Puritans.
Meanwhile, Germany investigates means of harnessing the energies that Britain's learned, in the interests of paying off their war debt faster...
  • This cries out for a sequel set in WWII pitting Naval Intelligence adept Robert Heinlein against freelance sorceror L. Ron Hubbard.
  • Tim Maroney wrote an Introduction to Crowley (In Five Voices) that you might find interesting. At the bottom of each section Tim looks at Crowley's views from various perspectives. Such thinking might add a few layers to the onion that will be your novel.
    • I'll second the recommendation on Maroney's little web bio. Haven't read Sutin's but Regardie's is pretty good if perhaps a bit sympathetic. Crowley's autobiography probably does the best job of showing exactly how pompous he was. If he was a baron who could levitate battleships, you'd still notice his arrogance before his title or powers.
  • I skimmed Sutin's bio of Crowley a long time ago when I couldn't afford to buy it. I spent like two hours reading it in a bookstore. I don't know if it's any good or not, I don't know enough about Crowley.

    Like you, I think Sutin's bio of PKD is probably the authoritative source, and it's stood up to both a) Dick's writings and interviews, and b) other sources. And it's a good read.
  • The synopsis has some heavy similarity to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Have you read it? An editor presented with an MS following your synopsis might assume that you're ripping Ms Clarke off.
    • No more than they'd assume that Ms. Clarke is ripping off Mervyn Peake or the Bronte Sisters or...
      ...there's actually a pretty lengthy geneaology for fantastic historical fiction: Clarke's a recent addition to the genre, rather than the mother thereof.

      Though I will definitely have to tweak the summary some to avoid the unfortunately strong-seeming parallel. It's not a novel about a magical war- it's a novel about a magical Lost Generation.
      • Lemme know when its available for a read.
      • I know, but the aspect of converting arcane knowledge into military uses in a "service of the realm" scenario, plus the subsequent upsetting of the established order in Government ... I don't recall that in Peake or any of the Brontës.

        By the way, when did Peake do historical fiction? Is there a major work I don't know about?

        I hear what you're saying about focusing on the Lost Generation rather than the warfare, though, so yes, I would re-cast (ha) the summary accordingly.
        • Well, Peake and the Brontes both created imaginary countries that were based very strongly on their interpretation of what they saw in the real world around them- Peake in, obviously, Gormenghast; the Brontes in their earlier writing (most of which was published as juvenilia far later).

          But yeah- the novel-jacket blurb would be more 'WW1... but with a difference'. I'm half-tempted to indulge the ultimate in sacrilege and have them build Milton-Keynes and name it 'Jerusalem' to be builded on England's green and pleasant land...
    • I was just thinking that very thing.
  • ...the young nobility whose parents got through WW1 OK and are trying to find a purpose for their lives, with a desperation that makes Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot's characterizations look like a bunch of Morally-Certain Puritans.

    If WWI ended in a quarter of the time, how do these people end up more desperate than in our reality? Do we get hippies 40 years earlier?
    • To use an alchemical metaphor, there was no crucible in which the national mettle's been tested.
      So yeah, actually, we kinda do get hippies in the 20s and 30s.
    • With Crowley playing Timothy Leary. Which is fair, since Leary was playing Crowley.
    • I also recommend Kaczynski's biography Perdurabo: comparable to Sutin in its scholarship and balance, but Kaczynski is a practicing magickian, so the tone and focus on Uncle Al's magickal practice is quite different. You can triangulate the Real Historical Crowley quite well between the two.

      I think you bloody well do not get hippies early in this world. Hippies arise from the morally problematic ongoing Vietnam war, the social crisis of the Civil Rights Movement, the new availability of effective contraception, the response to stifling '50s social conformity, and LSD. If Britain wins WWI early, then it is not changed by the moral crisis of the war's endless death and seeming pointlessness. Instead, it is changed by the confrontation with the magickal worldview's superior effectiveness to the scientistic rationalist worldview. Hippies were hungry for that kind of confrontation with a scientistic rationalist hegemony but were unable to actually find a magickal worldview that worked sustainably for them --- in the world of this novel, you would have a magickal hegemony. Completely different situation.
      • Eh. Assume postwar triumphalism, an economic surge, and a baby boom of protected, coddled children growing up in a social-conformist order inspired by the magickal hegemony you refer to. You still have the ingredients for a social movement of monstrously self-indulgent idealists. So Crowley isn't Timothy Leary, he's Edward Teller.
        • Okay, yeah, that makes some sense: in this formulation, WWI for Britain becomes much like WWII was for the US.

          If anyone deserves the appellation "The Great Beast," it's Teller.
          • Yep- that's the idea I had in mind. Socially, Britain would be in a place something more like 1950s America after this altered WWI.
            I've got so much research to do on this, though- I need to look into pre-Munich-beerhall-putsch German politics of the era and identify key players in the political scene pre-Hitler, and I need to read a bunch of Waugh and Wodehouse that I haven't yet read.
  • David Bowie, Eddie Izzard, Ab Fab? And I thought I was the only one.
    I'd adding you!
  • You mean éminence grise. Eminence, in French, is feminine. *refrains from extending the metaphor past the linguistic*
    • And I pull something like this after 6 years of French. Fie.
      • I think French is like one of the old dnd alignment languages. If you can't speak it correctly, it just means you're not Chaotic French or something.
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